Voice chat is an important part of the online gaming experience, yet PC gamers are left behind the consoles in this respect. It’s the one (big) disadvantage of gaming on the computer. Yes, we get to install whatever we want – but we also don’t have mandated, centralized services for things like free voice chat.
Of course, there are a number of companies that try to rectify this by offering simple, free voice chat for players. Let’s have a look at three of the best.
Recently I was tasked with finding a simple, client-to-client voice communication solution to use with a friend while gaming. Since it was only going to be two of us, a server-client offering seemed like overkill. But we also had no intention to participate in a larger community.
Vivox C3 is the software we settled on. A relative newcomer, it’s a very simple client-to-client offering that showcases Vivox’s voice communication technology. It’s built to use few resources while also providing excellent voice quality. From our experience, that’s exactly what it does.
Voice chat programs are not known for being easy to use. C3 isn’t as intuitive as it could be, either – but compared to the competition it looks like it was designed by Steve Jobs. The interface is attractive, navigation is quick and stability proved rock-solid. There’s also Facebook and phone integration, though it uses a separate service called Bobsled.
The Xfire service started in 2003 as a gaming instant messenger and community. At the time of its introduction, gaming messengers were popular because they also served as game launchers. You could talk with friends, form groups for multi-player, then launch the game to play.
Steam and other online stores with built-in communities featured have infringed on this traditional territory, so Xfire now offers free client-to-client voice chat to keep relevant. This service is accessed using the “chat rooms” section of the messenger. Anyone can create a chat room with voice chat.
The application is quick, but it also feels a bit outdated. It looks a bit like an application designed in 2003 that has been slightly remodeled but never properly updated. The voice chat quality also seems inferior to C3, though it’s still quite usable.
Of course, the benefit of Xfire is that it’s, well, Xfire. You can launch games, you can message (with voice or without), you can find servers, you can download files and you can manage in-game screenshots. There are arguably better solutions for each individual task, but Xfire combines it all into one package.
Although the client-to-client model is the easiest to set up, there aren’t as many features for managing the chat and they tend to incorporate features unrelated to voice chat that you may not need. The main advantage of client-to-client is its ease of setup and use, but for larger groups of people, the server-client model makes more sense.
There are a number of client-server options available, but the one that I find the easiest to use is Mumble. It’s an open source project, and such software is often intimidating, but that’s not the case here. Installing the client and using it is easy as pie and there’s even a detailed audio setup wizard that can be used to precisely calibrate your microphone and speakers for the clearest voice communication possible.
The only disadvantage with Mumble is the same found with all server-client setups – you need a server, and the strain placed on the server can be a problem if a lot of people are connected. You’ll need a good network adapter and a connection with plenty of bandwidth if you want to host large groups. If you don’t have both you can have someone else to host the server for you – but that, of course, isn’t free.
ConclusionWhich voice chat solution is the best? There’s no easy answer.
I use C3 because I play with a few friends and we need a simple, easy to install, easy to use option. If you like to play with friends and you’d also like to have some integrated gaming related features, like a launcher, Xfire is a good option. If you want to host large groups of gamers, Mumble is ideal.
There are of course many other options, like Ventrillo, TeamSpeak and more. If you’ve used another free voice chat service that you think is a good, free alternative, let us know about it in the comments.
Image Credit: Plantronics Germany